Made world-famous by the angry cartoon character “Taz”, the Tasmanian devil, Sarcophilus harrisii, is actually a stocky nocturnal black-haired animal about the size of a squat bulldog. That makes it the world’s largest carnivorous marsupial, with an appetite for carrion, reptiles and insects to match. The name was coined by European settlers who found the marsupial’s call, ranging from a low groan to a banshee screech, positively demonic.

Yet devils need all the friends they can get right now. Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFDT), a contagious cancer that is transmitted by saliva and causes fatal bulbous lesions, has spread across the state at around 15km a year since it was detected in northeast Tasmania in 1996. In the ensuing decade, there was a 95 percent decline in devil sightings. While geneticists race to map the twelve strains of the disease, the state’s Save the Tasmanian Devil Programme (w tassiedevil.com.au) is pinning hopes on breeding colonies such as Trowunna Wildlife Park and [email protected], as well as large disease-free enclosures in Tasmania and on the mainland. These programmes are the last line of defence for a top predator whose demise threatens to destabilize the entire Tasmanian ecosystem. The species went onto the “Endangered” list in 2010; not quite on the brink of extinction, perhaps, but close to the edge.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

Australia features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

Solo travel in Australia: everything you need to know

Solo travel in Australia: everything you need to know

Australia remains a classic travel destination. A steady stream of gap-year backpackers, career breakers and round-the-world-trippers head down under to sample …

22 Nov 2016 • Shafik Meghji insert_drive_file Article
Road trip Australia: 6 of the best routes

Road trip Australia: 6 of the best routes

Pack your stuff, throw it in a camper van along with a surfboard and don’t look back… This might be an old cliché but it’s one for good reason: Australia…

18 Oct 2016 • Ros Walford insert_drive_file Article
Sydney or Melbourne: the great Aussie debate

Sydney or Melbourne: the great Aussie debate

Sydney and Melbourne have been battling it out for supremacy as long as Europeans have been setting sail for Australia. Both are capitals of their respective st…

03 Oct 2016 • Helen Ochyra insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month